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Republicans are conservative. Democrats are liberal. Got that?

COMMENTARY | April 27, 2008

Conservatives are for getting the government off the backs of the people. Or is that, getting the people off the backs of the government? One of those two, anyway. And what is it again that liberals stand for?

By Martin Lobel

Words have meanings but you’d never know it from the news media’s coverage of politics. Conservative and Republican; liberal and Democrat are used synonymously in most of the media, but the reality seems to be quite different if you examine the positions taken by the parties and candidates.

Conservative, as used by Edmund Burke and the Republican party before President Reagan, used to stand for balanced budgets, minimally intrusive government and respect for the rights of individuals. Liberal, as used by John Locke and the Democratic party before President Carter, meant using the power of the government to protect the community and especially the powerless from abuses.

Now we have a President dedicated to expanding the power of government and especially Presidential power even if it means evading the courts and hiding information from them and Congress. A President who wants to use the power of government to impose his morality on citizens even if it means invading the sanctity of their homes and especially their bedrooms. A President who uses the power of the government to subsidize the very richest Americans whom he calls his constituents. A President who has taken a budget surplus and turned it into the largest deficit in American history because of his tax cuts which primarily benefit the richest Americans. And the media’s tag line for him is conservative???

On the other hand, we have two Democratic presidential candidates who are frequently called liberal even though they are both publicly committed to lowering the deficit, helping the middle class, protecting individual privacy and opening the government to public scrutiny. These are far more conservative positions in Burkean terms than the Republican positions.

Of course, if conservative is defined as one dedicated to protecting the rich and powerful, the media are correct—to an extent. The Republican party is more blatant about protecting the rich and powerful. But the Democratic party isn’t far behind, feeding from the same trough of campaign contributions.

The media have a responsibility to inform, not confuse people. If they are going to continue to use the terms conservative and liberal, the least they can do is define what they mean.

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